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Product Safety Suits Lead to Safer Products - Buckle unlatching

We have previously written about how Auto Safety lawsuits helped to improve the rollover resistance of Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) design – with manufacturers adopting some of the design and testing techniques advocated in lawsuits for decades, to produce safer, more rollover resistant SUVs. In other areas as well, auto safety suits and the publicity and awareness they generate have led to important auto safety improvements. Another example: preventing buckles from releasing themselves in the course of an accident.
Until relatively recently, many vehicles used seat belt buckles with buttons on their sides, rather than their ends. These were exposed to unintended release in accidents, including side impacts where the buckles would strike a center console or the occupant’s hip, inertially releasing the buckle (where inertia effectively “pushes” the button, undoing the seat belt). Most vehicles have now moved to end release designs. This is good, but not enough. End release buckles can also be released inertially unless they use a very inexpensive small part – which costs just pennies – that prevents such release. Fortunately, these release-resistant buckles are found in many vehicles – the rest need to follow suit. Most car makers also require that the buckle release button be recessed and small enough that it isn’t exposed to accidental release from an elbow or hand flailing in an accident. They use a very low-tech test for this: It should be impossible to push the button with a steel ball 30 mm or larger. Unfortunately, a few seatbelt systems fail to meet this simple, common sense test.
As with SUV rollover, we’ve made great progress. Now we need car makers to fix the few “bad apples” still on the road. Where folks are conscientious enough to wear their seatbelts, the manufacturer owes it to them to provide a belt that will stay on in the accident.

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